Translator: Sümeyye Nur Oflaz
In our journey of getting to know Muslim philosophers that influenced Islamic thought, this time we will be discussing the famous mystic and theologian: Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali.
Life and Personality
Ghazali was born in 1058 in the city of Tus, located in the Khorasan region of Iran: a famous region that brought up many famous Muslim scholars and statesmen. In the Islamic world, Ghazali is known by nicknames such as Hüccetü’l Islam or Zeynüddin whereas in the medieval times in the western world he was known as Abuhamet or Algazel. It is assumed that this great philosopher’s name, known as Ghazali, stems from his father being a gazzâl (wool spinner, spinner).
Even though Ghazali’s family is of Persian origin, the information we have on his family is extremely limited. It is known that he had several sisters and one brother named Ahmed, who would come to the fore with his mystical personality in the future. His father had a little shop where he sold hand-crafted products. He was also interested in mysticism and Sufism, so he attended conversations and lectures in mosques. That, he wanted his sons to receive a qualitative education but when he found out that he wouldn’t be able to provide them with this education because of his illness, he asked a friend to take care of his sons’ education. It is estimated that Ghazali received his primary education in fields such as literacy, memorization of the Qur’an, grammar, and arithmetic with the support of his father’s friend. From his childhood, al-Ghazali was spiritually influenced by both his father and his father’s friend, who undertook his education. His father’s friend, who supported the education of Ghazali and his brother Ahmed for a while, stated that he could not help them anymore due to financial difficulties and recommended them to go to a madrasa.
Educational Life and his time as an Educator
Ghazalî, who first started his advanced education in Tus, the city where he was born, later went to Nîşâbur with a group of young people and started to take lessons in the Nizamiye Madrasa founded by the famous Seljuk vizier Nizamülmülk. In this madrasah, he advanced the courses he had taken in basic before, such as fiqh, hadith, and doctrines, and received the initial knowledge of sciences such as theology and philosophy. After the death of Cüveyni, who was a scholar in the science of discourse and Ghazali’s teacher in Nîşâbur, he decided to go to Nizamülmülk to expand his field of study and was welcomed by the vizier with great interest. Nizamülmülk trusted the knowledge of Ghazali, so he supported him in stabilizing the situation of the Shafi’i school as well as in avoiding the growth of the Batini movement that was against the Sunni regime. During the 6 years, he was with the vizier, he met many scholars and increased his reputation by proving his knowledge in various scientific and intellectual debates held in this intellectual environment. Ghazali, who increased his knowledge during the time he spent with the Vizier Nizamülmülk, was appointed by Nizamülmülk to the professorship of the Baghdad Nizamiye Madrasah, the most famous of the Nizamiye Madrasahs.
He wrote most of his works during the four-year period he served as a muderris. Ghazali’s in-depth studies in fields such as philosophy, theology, and mysticism led to depression in his spiritual and intellectual world. His growing suspicion led him to think that he used his knowledge, not for the sake of Allah but for the sake of rank and fame, and this thought made him sick. This is why he wasn’t able to teach the way he used to. After all these experiences he left the madrasa to his brother, although it was a difficult step to take for his ego and soul. He started living a life of seclusion. Ghazalî, who traveled to many different cities during his seclusion, wrote his masterwork, ”İhya’ü ulûmi’d-dîn”, during this period. Ghazali finally went to Tus, the city where he was born and after continuing his studies for a while, he died in Tus in 1111 at the age of 53.
Philosophical Views and Works
Ghazali, who has a say in many religious and intellectual fields such as fiqh, theology, mysticism, philosophy, doctrines, politics, and education, is a scholar whose kind is rarely seen in the history of Islamic thought. He has written qualified and comprehensive papers in all of these fields. Ghazali opposed sectarianism, which strongly criticizes people’s view toward sects, which in his opinion is based on worldly reasons such as political superiority and financial gain. According to him, people should find and doubt their sect through mental and intellectual activities, because doubt is the only way to reach the truth. Al-Ghazali also doubted the philosophers before him, he, therefore, made in-depth studies on these subjects and criticized the subject, only then he could gain as much knowledge of these subjects as a philosopher, and only then he was able to review these topics. He also criticized the shallow and contradictory interpretations of the theologians before him, who regarded philosophy as dangerous and refrained from examining it in depth because of the lack of knowledge in philosophy. He said that the arguments used by theologians in their opposition to philosophy were so simple that they couldn’t even convince ordinary people.
His main purpose in writing his work titled “Tehâfütü’l-felâsife” was to strengthen Ash’arism by showing that the ideas of the philosophers in Baghdad which were against the ideas of Ahlus-Sunnah were wrong. To refute them Nizamülmülk wanted him to write this book. Unlike the old theologians, Ghazali conducted his criticisms against philosophy and philosophers on a philosophical basis with their evidence and methods. In other words, he expressed the problems of philosophy and the contradictions experienced by philosophers by philosophizing.
To get to know Ghazali better:
· El-Munkız mine’d Dalal – Ghazali
· Tehâfütü’l-felâsife – Ghazali